By Chris Gandy :
I attended the Australian Society of Association Executives Conference in Canberra last week where many of the papers and invariably a great deal of the networking conversation focused on helping staff and NFP Boards overcoming resistance to change.
As I listened to some excellent presentations which received knowing nods from an engaged audience each time stuck in the mud boards and employees were mentioned, looking around the room I couldn’t help but think that maybe the problem actually lay with some of us in the room.
We often think of leaders as the catalysts of change and employees as the obstacles. Yet I suspect few leaders realise how we subtly resist and block needed changes.
Some years ago now I came across a book by Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” which suggests why this phenomenon happens.
Basically Goldsmith contends that whenever we experience success in the workplace, we usually come away feeling very positive about it. Our self-esteem is elevated and we develop more confidence in our abilities. However, this only goes so far. Often, when we have series of successes such as those which facilitated our climb up the corporate ladder, we are prone to adopt a handful of beliefs that aren’t necessarily true. We start to believe that we are more responsible than we actually are for an organisation’s or project’s success and they begin to believe that our value is much higher than reality actually shows.
This is a human condition that anyone, not only a leader, can succumb to. For every leader there is an enormous temptation to cling onto the leadership behaviours that made us successful in the past. Unfortunately, these approaches may no longer work in today’s, let alone in tomorrow’s work environments. As J. Paul Getty said,
“In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”
So how do we deal with the “experience enemy”?
Well as uncomfortable as it maybe, the first battle involves a bit of self-analysis. We need to understand the real reasons behind our resistance to a change. Are we approaching retirement or thinking of moving on and are we looking to cruise to the finish line? Do we feel threatened or perhaps inadequate in the face of the proposed change? Whatever the reason we need a plan to cope with it.
We need to watch how we interact with others. Do we shut down suggestions and ideas from others? Think about how often our first response is: “We tried that it won’t work; It’s too hard; Too expensive; It’ll take too long; They won’t like it”.
Recognise that all successful change initiatives start at the top. Become a role model for embracing and enacting new behaviours needed in our organization. As Aguirre & Alpern recommend in “10 Principles of Leading Change Management”
“Start by defining the critical few behaviors that will be essential to the success of the initiative. Then conduct everyday business with those behaviors front and center. Senior leaders must visibly model these new behaviors themselves, right from the start, because employees will believe real change is occurring only when they see it happening at the top of the company”.
And finally, remember, Martin Luther King did not say “I have a plan”. He proclaimed “I have a dream!”
We must provide passion and a strong sense of purpose of the change.
When someone is passionate about something, it can have an inspiring effect. A Leaders role is to inspire others to seek and embrace change. Not to unwittingly encourage a change resistance movement.
Chris is the Founder of Cause & Effective. He and his team help cause-based organisations open doors to opportunities when their CEO departs.